|The Role of Women in Global Change:
How Changing Female Gender Roles Have Affected Fertility Rate in France
With the development of a nation, revolutions can occur that have long lasting impacts on the world around it. Along with endless environmental effects, population growth and fertility rates have continuously played a vital role in a nation’s development. As with France’s development, its population growth was an important factor in its progress and expansion as a nation. Within the last century, however, there has been a major turn of events in the population growth of France. Fertility rates have declined to two children per woman or less, a rate which will inevitably cause negative population growth. One cause of this drastic decrease in the nation’s fertility rate is due to a change in women’s gender roles with regards to society. With increases in women’s freedoms regarding education, the workplace, and health, women’s changing roles in France have led to the decline of the fertility rate and to the decline in the population growth of France.
After the end of World War II, the result of the baby boom on population affected much of the world, including that of France. However, when the effects of the baby boom decelerated around 1960, there was a coinciding decline in France’s fertility rate, which dropped below two children per woman (Prioux “Recent” 1). In 1976, “the year of stabilization at the end of the baby boom,” the birth-rate “in France [had] been roughly constant,” at this low level (Toulemon 1). One result of this sharp decline in fertility rates was due to the evolving viewpoints of women’s standing within society. This included not only their increasing numbers in the workforce, but their ability to gain higher levels of education and their access to health care services and child care planning. As Haub, a senior demographer at the Population Reference Bureau, states, "The dramatic fertility decline during the 20th century coincided with improved health, access to family planning, economic development, and urbanization" (David 1). As the chart below shows, developed countries, such as France, have developed low fertility rates within recent history (Human Population 1).
Recently, a UN study has shown “that women with access to universal health care and reproductive education are more able to control their fertility rates” (Kersting 1). An article on MSNBC.com discussed how a society’s fertility rate must average 2.1 children per woman in order for the nation’s population to increase; yet, “Europe's fertility rates fall far short of that, according to the 2002 U.N. population report” (Meyer 2). Implying that with France’s low fertility rate, the country will enviably reach a negative population growth rate, having more senior citizens than there are children to replace them.
Women’s roles in French society have drastically changed politically, socially, and economically. As Laurie Mignone of Sierra Club's Global Population and Environment Program stated, “We must face the fact that global population growth [has] dire consequences on our environment” ( Frank 1). Since women have gained more independence in the workforce, they have developed stronger social identities. For example, childless working women are increasingly more familiar at high-income levels (Khlat 1). French women have also undergone an enormous participatory change within the realm of politics, exemplified by the 1999 constitutional amendment declaring that half of all representatives in elected assemblies must be female (Shames). With their increasing status within the workforce and within politics, women have inevitably altered their roles within the family structure and the reproductive realm as well. Emphasizing an importance toward careers, women have “postponed childbearing” (Prioux “Late” 1); “Late fertility is likely to continue increasing as long as fertility continues to decrease among young people.” Which it will seemingly do, as women continue gaining rights and freedoms in society (1).
Increases in women’s access to education, health care, and their continuing importance within the workforce has greatly impacted the population growth of France. Due to these changes, which occurred simultaneously with the end of the baby boom, a decline in fertility rate has occurred within France. With the overall change in mentality of women’s roles within society, France will continue on with its low levels of fertility.